We have used and reviewed flight simulators in this publication since shortly after the first issue. We long ago formed the opinion that even the most basic desktop model can help a pilot learn new techniques, skills and procedures faster than in an aircraft in flight-airplanes truly are lousy classrooms-and that simulators are excellent tools for keeping VFR and IFR skills honed.
As technology advanced simulators became more and more capable of replicating the aircraft they mimicked. Along the way, the FAA updated its regulations to allow credit for time spent “flying” certain sims toward pilot certificates, type ratings and required recency of flight experience.
The most recent regulatory update on flight experience credit for operating a sim kicked in as of November 26, 2018, and will, we believe, cut the cost of meeting the recency of experience requirement for filing and flying IFR.
As of that date, pilots can use an Aviation Training Device (ATD), as defined in FAR Part 61.1, to meet the recent experience requirements of Part 61.57(c)-filing and flying IFR-in the same fashion as the pilot could previously only in an aircraft, full flight simulator (FFS) or flight training device (FTD). FFSs and FTDs are more sophisticated, and expensive, flight simulators than ATDs.
The reason this is a big deal for pilots is that (1) an ever-increasing number of flight schools, flying clubs and individuals own ATDs-prices start just north of $5000; and (2) previously there were restrictions on the use of ATDs for instrument currency that were onerous enough that pilots were not taking advantage of the fact that it was cheaper to stay current in a simulator than shelling out the bucks to do so in an airplane.
Cheaper, Better Training
Back in the June 2018 issue of Aviation Consumer, we railed at what we considered to be the foolish restrictions on the use of ATDs for instrument currency. We were, and are, convinced that recurrent training in an ATD, with its ability to fly approach after approach without flying for several minutes to reposition and its ability to safely practice emergency procedures, meant that pilots should be able to use one in the same manner for instrument recurrent training as they could an airplane.
Now They Can.
Now, instead of finding a safety pilot to ride along in an airplane as you do the instrument work you’ve tailored for yourself to meet the FARs for recent experience, you can do it in an ATD. It will cost less and you can shoot more approaches in the time you spend. When you get current using an ATD, it will be good for six months, just as if you used an airplane, FTD or FFS.
There is one caveat: You’ll need to make a logbook entry or keep some sort of training record that specifies the type of ATD (we read that as make and model), the time you spent and what you did-number and type of approaches, etc. The FAA issues Letters of Authorization (LOA) to approve ATDs; it recommends that you make a copy of the LOA for the ATD you use and keep it with your records.
The new regs do not allow you to use just any desktop simulator for instrument recurrent training. It has to have been certified as meeting certain standards for realistic re-creation of flight by the FAA as an ATD. That process is described in detail in FAA Advisory Circular 61-136B. It further describes the split of ATDs into two classifications: Basic Aviation Training Device (BATD) and Advanced Aviation Training Device (AATD). Both BATDs and AATDs fall under the new regs on recurrent training.